Before there were touchdowns, there had to be trust.

On New Year’s Day, two weeks after Kalen DeBoer (supposedly) completed his inaugural Washington staff, wide receivers coach Junior Adams abruptly accepted the same role at Oregon. Terrell Bynum — who totaled 65 catches for 934 receiving yards and six touchdowns in four seasons in Seattle — announced a transfer to USC just two days later.

Of course, that exodus was nothing new. Since 2016, zero Washington wideouts had eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season — while that feat was accomplished 160 times elsewhere in the FBS. That’s despite UW signing 10 four-star wideouts in the same span — Bynum, Ty Jones, Marquis Spiker, Austin Osborne, Trey Lowe, Puka Nacua, Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze, Jabez Tinae and Germie Bernard (who asked out of his national letter of intent this offseason, before enrolling at Michigan State).

Seven of those 10 blue-chip wide receivers transferred away from Washington.

Which, inevitably, brings us back to trust.

Even before hiring a wide receivers coach, DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb started working to earn it.

“I wanted to make sure I was going to be in the right place, because in my heart I feel like if I’m on that field in a good system I’m going to shine,” Odunze said on the Husky Football Coaches Show on Sept. 7. “Recruits talk to coaches and sometimes things are swayed and people say different things, but with coach DeBoer it was so genuine and so consistent. You pull up the facts and his résumé and there were so many pieces of evidence stacked up on top of each other. You meet him in person and he was still the same guy.

“Then we sat down for a couple hours each day, watching film and (DeBoer and Grubb) reassuring me. I’m skeptical by nature, and I wanted to make sure I was going to be in the right fit. Once I’m sure of that, I’m 100%. I’m all in. That’s something that coach showed me and he’s continuing to show me.”

Wide receivers Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk publicly recommitted to UW on Jan. 6. Odunze followed suit on Jan. 14.


The 6-foot-3, 201-pound sophomore was working in between.

“(Odunze) was having thoughts and discussions and really trying to figure it out for himself,” Grubb recalled last week. “We were in a voluntary workout mode, and he didn’t miss any workouts.

“That’s really Rome, honestly, to a T. Now that I know him, that doesn’t surprise me, that that’s how he operated. But all three of those guys did a good job of just sitting down and watching film with me. I think they just wanted a comfort level of, ‘What is it that we’re going to do?’ Luckily we had a system where it was pretty easy to put the film on and show them multiple stops, different places, different levels. ‘Hey, this is how we operate. This is how we get different guys the ball. There’s been production at all the different places we’ve been.’ Ultimately it came down to them having faith and trust in us as a staff.”

And when it came to that staff, DeBoer reciprocated.

On the week of Jan. 3, JaMarcus Shephard — then Purdue’s co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach — traveled with his wife Hallie to interview at Washington.

During which, DeBoer insisted he meet jointly with Odunze, McMillan and Polk.

“They just wanted to know, ‘Hey, what do you teach? Hey, talk to us about how you coach.’ I told them about my coaching style,” said Shephard, who dressed in a suit and tie for the meeting. “It was a pretty intense 40 minutes. We’re getting up, demonstrating things. That’s just how I am. It was certainly more me selling myself (than the other way around).”

First, DeBoer and Grubb had to earn the trust of their returning wide receivers.


And before he ever joined the staff, Shephard followed suit.

“He showed his genuine side,” McMillan said Tuesday. “He was real about how he wanted to approach the season and what he wanted to do with the receivers. He laid down goals. He talked to us about the small details he wanted us to work on. He even watched some of our film. When someone tells you that and then proves they did their research on you, it’s like, ‘He must be really interested.’”

Added Odunze: “The three of us looked at each other (after that meeting) and we were like, ‘We’ve got to get him. We’ve got to get him here.’ He was so inspirational off the (bat), and he’s just a great person. We knew we needed that in our room. We needed that energy.”

Shephard was hired as the Huskies’ associate head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach on Jan. 14. Nearly nine months later, UW ranks third in the nation in passing offense (364 yards per game), seventh in passing touchdowns (16), ninth in completions of 20 yards or more (26), and 20th in yards per pass attempt (9.0).

Both Odunze (26 catches, 409 yards, 4 TD in 4 games) and McMillan (27 catches, 428 yards, 4 TD in 5 games), meanwhile, are on pace for 1,000-yard receiving campaigns. Polk also exploded for six catches, 153 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the win last month over Michigan State.

That production was made possible long before Michael Penix Jr. released his first touchdown pass.

“That was a big win,” Grubb said of Odunze, McMillan and Polk’s decisions to stay at UW. “That was a big win for sure, just knowing our offense too and the type of guys we were going to need to be functional. So I think that recruiting piece, with the nature of where college football is at right now, started the day we walked on campus. We were just really appreciative of the guys that believed and had faith that we were who we said we were, and they were going to follow through on things. Now they’re reaping the benefits a little bit.”

The message nine months ago, DeBoer says now, was relatively simple: “I’m going to prove to you this is what you’re supposed to do. This is where you’re supposed to be.”

“I think, in the end, we are closer now because of those conversations that we had,” UW’s first-year coach added last week. “Whether it be me (talking) with them or coach Grubb (talking) with them, or me talking to their parents as we were going through this, I think we’re tighter. I think we’re closer because of the trust that we built up way back in January.”